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Being back is good. Requiring the booster is even better.

| Friday, January 14, 2022

As spring semester 2022 has dawned upon us all, now more than ever is the time to reflect on the policies and behaviors that have allowed us to come back to campus in (what is seemingly) one piece. Many of our college-aged peers in other universities across the country have fallen into a “soft-start” approach to the new semester, going back to the zoom or hybrid formats of yesteryear. Colleges have announced a two-week soft-start period of online classes with only vague promises to “return to campus” or “return to normal” after this two-week period. 

Color me a bit wary, though, as we have seen the language of a “two week pause” before returning to normal in the past. 

When Father Jenkins wrote his bold May 2020 New York Times opinion piece, “We’re re-opening Notre Dame. It’s worth the risk,” he discussed the motivating forces and principles behind his decision in the wake of much opposition nationally. He writes, “First, we strive to protect the health of our students, faculty, staff and their loved ones. Second, we endeavor to offer an education of the whole person — body, mind and spirit — and we believe that residential life and personal interactions with faculty members and among students are critical to such an education. Finally, we seek to advance human understanding through research, scholarship and creative expression.”

It was with these guiding forces that Notre Dame as an institution guided itself amidst the somewhat treacherous waters of uncertainty just months after the beginning of lockdown. It was a bold move then, and it’s a bold move now to continue to be a bulwark against questionable and ostensibly data-driven policies in other parts of the country. 

Being back is good; requiring the booster is even better. So, this approach to a new normal with students masking until campus is mostly boosted is a way to carve a line down the middle and to still take the pandemic seriously. While Notre Dame is not alone in this approach, anecdotal evidence of my peers on winter break showed many dreading starting classes on their computer screens, hunched over laptops at home or in dorms. No Christmas-gifted blue light glasses could prepare them for what may be another (surprise!) semester of Zoom Uni. 

With that, I am increasingly grateful for and in support of the choice to continue in-person instruction. As Jenkins writes in his same New York Times piece, “We may need to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we are facing not simply a passing crisis, but a new normal. For that and similar challenges, we need moral insight.” Recognizing that this is not a “passing crisis” has been key to remaining committed to in-person instruction, and I would urge other universities to consider the guiding principles that have led to the new normal being achieved. As much as the grind of new classes and readings and work may cause stress after a restful winter break, I’m glad to not only be back but to feel safe while being back. 

Alexa Schlaerth is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame pursuing degrees in Chinese and philosophy. As an Angeleno, Alexa enjoys shopping at Erewhon Market, drinking kombucha and complaining about traffic because it’s “like, totally lame.” Alexa can be reached at [email protected] over email.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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